Sunday 22nd January 2023
A single rocket explodes in the blue sky, the first warning that the first morning session of the Sant Sebastià bull-running is imminent. Families and friends emerge from their houses into the chilly January air, wrapped in several layers to keep warm, whilst others travel in from surrounding towns. A second rocket bursts in the sky as parents gently lift their children onto the top of the cages for a better view and those inside the arena stretch their bodies to prepare themselves for the next couple of hours. A final rocket and three solid knocks on a metal door herald the arrival of the first animal of the day. It charges into the arena; the game is on.
It is an event that divides opinion in a multi-cultural and multi-national town like Xàbia. Yet the core population retains a pastoral approach to life and the running with the bull remains a popular event to attend. Curious outsiders gather outside the cages; some are even lucky enough to be invited up on to the platforms for a better view. Many drift off after a few minutes. For the locals, they remain in place, chatting with friends and family, applauding a precise movement by one of the runners, warming up those cold hands.
Yet, the running with the bulls is more than just watching young people, mostly young men, try and prove their bravery against an animal with horns that are likely to do plenty of damage to their young bodies. Around the arena, the bars are packed and doing a roaring business in drink and food. Just a few steps away, the indoor market is very busy and it’s standing room only at the bars. It’s a perfect boost during an otherwise quiet period after the Christmas period.
Another rocket signals the end of the morning session and the people drift off in different directions for lunch. For members of ACT Xàbia, the cultural association which organises the bull-running event in the town, there is a special communal lunch in the headquarters of the Fogueres Commission, where 100 or so people have been invited to enjoy a traditional ‘putxero’, a warming Valencian stew perfect for a cold January day.
As the sun drops in the sky to the west, another rocket bursts into the sky. The evening session is approaching. People drift back towards the church square; some are hesitant to leave the warmth of the surrounding bars and restaurants. The music starts up again as another rocket’s retort rings across the darkening sky. The cages begin fill, children now more confident of tackling the steep ladders to reach the platforms above. A third rocket and the first animal of the evening is released for another couple of hours of action.
The town is alive as night falls. It’s Saturday night but it feels especially lively. It’s fiesta in the historic centre. Occasionally the traditional drum and dulzaina provokes people into clapping and singing along to old favourites. In another bar, a noisy karaoke draws in those willing to show off their vocal skills in public. Later in the evening, the local nightclub opens its doors to offer some music and dancing until the early hours. The bars and restaurants are busy; for some it’s the last night before closure for the winter season, an opportunity to boost the coffers before closing their doors for a few weeks, for it is fiesta in Xàbia. And a complete day of fun it has been.